WASHINGTON — The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday it has granted the first permission for commercial drone flights over land, the latest effort by the agency to show it is loosening restrictions on commercial uses of the unmanned aircraft.
Drone maker AeroVironment of Monrovia, Calif., and BP energy corporation have been given permission to use a Puma drone to survey pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, the agency said. The first flight took place on Sunday.
Made by AeroVironment, the Puma is a small, hand-launched craft about 4 1/2-feet long and with a 9-foot wingspan. It was initially designed for military use.
Drones are often less expensive to operate than manned aircraft and easier to maneuver. Equipped with 3D cameras, the Puma will provide images of hard-to-reach places not currently available, BP and AeroVironment say.
AeroVironment CEO Tim Conver said the Puma “is now helping BP manage its extensive Prudhoe Bay field operations in a way that enhances safety, protects the environment, improves productivity and accomplishes activities never before possible.”
Last summer, the FAA had approved the Puma and the ScanEagle made by Boeing subsidiary Insitu Inc. of Bingen, Wash., for flights over the Arctic Ocean to scout icebergs, count whales and monitor drilling platforms.
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